Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Vayakhel

The following is a brief summary of part of a shiur that I heard this evening. I am unaware of the name of the maggid shiur as he was not identified in the satellite broadcast. I have attempted to reproduce this vort to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistencies are the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to the speaker.

In the first sentence of this week's parsha, Moshe brings all the Jews together to tell them about the building of the Mishkan. The Klei Yakar comments that all of the Jews were gathered together for this announcement, because they all had a role in the building of the Mishkan. He further explains that this event occurred on the day after Yom Kippur because the Jews had all been united in their prayers for Yom Kippur and now that unity had been achieved they could work together on building the Tabernacles.

R' Yaakov Kaminetsky explains that when the Jews received the Torah they had been united together. [This can be seen from the use of the words Na'aseh V'Nishma - the singular form that we will do and we will hear]. However during the sin of the golden calf the Jews were all separated to the point that each tribe had its own calf. In order to create the tikkun for the sin of the golden calf through the building of the Mishkan, the Jews first needed to be united again through their Yom Kippur prayers.

R' Shlomo Alkabetz (author of the L'cha Dodi prayer) finds a similarity in the Purim story. When Esther tells Mordechai about her plight she tells him (4:16) to go and bring all the Jews together. This was done to correct the problem that Haman had observed that the Jews were scattered amongst the people or Persia and Media (3:8). The success of bringing together of all the Jews can be seen at the end of the story where it is said that the Jews were organized together (9:2).

We can also see how great the power of Purim is, even greater than Yom Kippur. Before Yom Kippur a person will approach his friend and ask for forgiveness. This can act to mend fissures in a friendship. On the other hand if a person sends shalach manot to someone that he is not friendly with he can create new relationships where there was previously enmity.

We should only see togetherness among the Jewish people.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wednesday's Weird But True Cases - Vol I

As a grade school kid I was fascinated by radio. Maybe it was because I grew up in a home with tight television restrictions. Maybe it was because I was a news junkie. I can't really tell you why, but one thing I am certain of - my old clock radio with the flipping numbers was always locked in on WCBS. I can still remember the jingle that they played in the late 70s and early 80s when the various reporters would give a quick sound bite and then WCBS would launch into the news at the top of the hour.

One of the segments that WCBS ran on an intermittent basis was Neil Chait's looking at the law. It wasn't on every day, but periodically there would be a report that would begin with a question - when is a.... this was the question that was addressed recently by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. He would then discuss a particular legal scenario for 30-45 seconds before summing up. Many times the case had an odd or even counter intuitive result, but they were always interesting.

In my regular practice as an attorney I spend a great portion of my time doing legal research. Invariably I will stumble on a case with a truly bizarre fact pattern that makes for great shop talk with other lawyers or even non-lawyers who can't believe what some people get themselves into. I decided to make these little snippets of weird cases the focus of the Wednesday Weird But True cases.

This week I came across a case from the 1970's where a person asked the NYPD for help in finding his stolen car. He wound up finding the car on his own - it had been left a few blocks from where he parked it, albeit hotwired with the ignition replaced by a phony switch. The owner then called the precinct and asked them to come. No one showed up. He then called 911. Still no police arrived at the scene. Finally, the owner flagged down a police car and told the officer his story. The officer told the owner that he must accompany the officer to the precinct to "clear the alert." The owner was concerned about doing this since the car could be taken by anyone who flipped the phony switch. The officer then took the switch out and informed the owner that the car was now inoperable. The owner still protested and asked the officer to call the situation in on his radio. The officer said that he could not do so and the owner went with him to the station.

Needless to say, when the owner returned to the scene the car was gone -- this time for good.

The owner filed suit against the City and offered to settle for less than his out of pocket cost, but the City offered far less.

At trial, the City defended under a theory that the removal of the switch was a proper exercise of judgment. Additionally, the City argued that they were justified in telling the owner that he could not take possession of the car without coming to the precinct because of the "danger" that another office might see him driving the car, realize the car was stolen and injure him trying to apprehend him.

The Judge would have none of this and awarded full judgment to the Plaintiff. You can look it up - Susser v. City of New York, 97 Misc.2d 984, 413 N.Y.S.2d 83 (NY Cty. Civ Ct. 1979).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday's Thoughts On The Daf - Nedarim 66

I have often heard the following (paraphrased) statement attributed to Rabbi Mordechai Willig - if a couple has problems before they get married, the issues will be keenly examined with an eye towards breaking the engagement. If the couple has problems after the marriage the issues will be worked on with a view of trying to resolve them and keep the family together. [Editorial note - maybe if I had a better attendance record during the year that Rabbi Willig discussed "The River, the Kettle and the Bird" I might have a better recollection/formulation of the thought].

This general concept manifests itself in the Chumash in the discussion of Sotah. If a woman is suspected of adultery, the Cohain would take a scroll upon which the biblical portion of Sotah was written and then erase it by dipping it in water. The process would be completed by giving the "potential" Sotah the water to drink. If she was innocent of the suspected charges the water would cause no harmful result, whereas if she was guilty she would suffer an agonizing death. For more on the Sotah process, see R' Mordechai Torczyner's discussion at

The concept of erasing the portion which contains Hashem's name is counter intuitive. Many commentators ask how we can destroy Hashem's name in written form to resolve a "suspected" case of Sotah. The answer that is we are permitted to do so in the name of Shalom Bayit -keeping the household or family peace. Since the water may prove that the wife was wrongly suspected, Hashem allows his honor to be diminished (by the erasing of his name) in order to promote the family peace.

This concept plays itself out in yesterday's daf (Nedarim 66b). There is a story about a husband who wants to spite his wife and makes an oath that his wife is to receive no benefit from him, unless and until she makes food for certain Rabbis. The Rosh explains that this oath dishonors the Rabbis who obviously have no connection with the couple. When she had finished cooking the food she brought it to Rabbi Yehuda who tasted the dish. When asked why he did so, Rabbi Yehuda remarked that if Hashem is willing to allow His name to be erased to make peace between a man and his wife, a fortiori I cannot stand on ceremony and must taste the food, even though it was an affront to my honor.

We probably can find ourselves in similar (but less severe) situations where keeping our mouth shut may promote peace in our home or someone else's household. The lesson of the Daf is that we should forgo our honor if we can assist the marriage in the process.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Max Kellerman's Monday Musings Vol I: A-rod, Golf and Women

About two years ago, I first heard Max Kellerman on the radio doing a show that aired after Michael Kay in the 7:00 slot on 1050 ESPN Radio. I learned to alternately love or hate the "These Five Things I Know Are True" that signalled the start of each show. I also began to develop an appreciation for a Sports Radio host who knew more than just sports and interspersed various political, religious and socio-economic commentary with the usual sports banter.

I know, many people think that Max Kellerman may discuss issues and comment in ways that may seem to be contrary to the thinking of an Orthodox Jew. But there is a lot that can be learned from Max and his views are not all that different than those in the mainstream of Orthodox life.

Take for example today's show. Max had a number of themes that ran through his three hour show. These included that A-Rod is under appreciated by Yankee fans and is frequently a target when there is nothing better to write about. [He quoted an article that I did not see where A-Rod was called soft]. This is nothing new to those aware of New York sports. Just remember the 2005 season - Yankee fans railed against him and booed A-Rod mercilessly during most of the season - despite the fact that he was putting up gaudy numbers (he finished with a 1.031 OPS, 48 HRs and 130 RBIs). Yet when the discussions came up about the MVP race, Yankee fans came out of the woodwork to laud his accomplishments over those of David Ortiz. I'm sorry, but weren't you all just booing him every time he came to bat?

Other topics reached today were that golf and NASCAR are not sports. No argument from me on either topic. While they may involve competition they are not sporting events.

A topic that may (in theory) get Max in trouble with his wife Erin was that "The Oscars show why women are dumb." No Sarah, I did not say this, Max Kellerman did. [Editorial comment - this year neither my wife nor I watched the Academy Awards, but then again neither did most of America].

But getting back to my original thought - Max followed this statement with a heartfelt expression about Erin that marrying her was the best thing that he ever did. Having seen Max and Erin together, I can't disagree. But this is also not a thought antithetical to Torah Judaism. The Talmud states in Brachos 8a (as well as in Yevamos) the expression "Matza Isha Matza Tov" or if a man has found a wife he has found goodness. I myself have learned to appreciate my wife more and more as the years of our marriage have gone by and I find myself closer to her now then ever. Why, because in the words of Max Kellerman - marrying my wife was the best thing that I ever did. Or in the words of the Talmud - "Matza Isha Matza Tov."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Night Suds - Saranac Scotch Ale

I can honestly say that before I was married I had never enjoyed a beer. That's not to say that I had never tried a beer (who can?) just that I had never truly enjoyed beer. However, in the early fall of 1997 while I was on vacation at my in-laws in Chicago, I sat with my brothers in law and had cold Heineken on a hot September afternoon. It was like magic. Suddenly a door was opened to me and I begin to appreciate and ultimately experiment with beer.

I began a quest to try to understand what kinds of beer were kosher and how to appreciate them. I started trying various domestic and international brews and my tastes changed and matured (as opposed to the rest of me -- just ask my kids -- I still have not grown up). I began to seek out beer stores that carried off the beaten path brews and to make excuses as to where I was taking the kids or going after work.

As time went on I became influenced by beer advocate a website run by the Alstrom brothers containing a wealth of information on beer. I even began to purchase glassware and have noticed the taste differences that result from drinking beer from various glasses, cups and mugs.

As word began to spread in my small community as to my knowledge and love for beer, I decided to start a blog devoted to the various aspects of my life, all of which go so well with beer.

So what makes beer kosher?

As will be discussed in later posts, there are generally accepted rules governing which beers are kosher. For those seeking immediate answers to the question of --is this beer kosher-- I would refer you to the Chicago Rabbinical Council statement that:

All unflavored beers, domestic and imported, with no additives listed on the ingredient label are acceptable, even without a Kosher certification. This applies to both USA and imported beers, including non-alcoholic and dark beers.

This statement of the CRC is not without caveat as many beers especially those from microbrews are flavored. As such, the CRC cautions:

Many breweries are coming out with specialty brews that have additives; don't assume that all varieties are acceptable - check the label.

So with all this as an introduction, I decided to discuss a beer that I have begun to enjoy recently --Saranac Scotch Ale. Saranac Scotch Ale is a full bodied beer with a strong hop flavor. It goes well with meat and potatoes (but then again so do most things). It holds its flavor very well without giving too strong of an aftertaste.

Saranac Scotch Ale is under the Kosher Supervision of the Vaad of Detroit, as are all products brewed at the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, New York.

The Scotch Ale cannot be purchased in six pack or twelve packs and only comes as part of the winter beer sampler pack. I have bought two sampler packs already and if they did not come with two bottles of the awful Winter Wassail I probably would have bought more. I have emailed Saranac and asked whether they would produce it in six or twelve packs but have not yet received a response to my email.

For the professionals' take on Scotch Ale follow this link

As always, please remember to drink responsibly and to never waste good beer unless there is no designated driver.